Megan’s Law is an informal name for laws in the United States requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders. It was created in response to the murder of Megan Kanka who had the misfortune of living across the street from a twice convicted sex offender. The sex offender raped and murdered Megan in 1994. Congress immediately thereafter enacted legislation which provided funding for states which enacted a Sex Offender Registration Law meeting certain minimum requirements. As of 2003, every State has enacted a Sex Offender Registration Law although the laws vary significantly in content.
At the federal level, Megan’s Law is known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994, and requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after release from custody (prison or psychiatric facility).
Megan’s Law provides two major information services to the public:
- Sex offender registration
- Community notification
The details of what is provided as part of sex offender registration and how community notification is handled vary from state to state, and in some states the required registration information and community notification protocols have changed many times since Megan’s Law was passed.
New York’s Megan Law
New York’s law sets forth the intent and purpose of the Megan’s Law Act.
In 2002, the New York State Legislature changed the manner in which sex offenders in New York are classified and also improved the registration requirements. Sex offenders are required to register with New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. When the law was originally enacted a sex offender received a risk level classification which determined the duration of registration. Now, all sex offenders must register annually for 10 years except that an offender who has been designated as a “sexual predator”, “sexually violent offender” or “predicate sex offender” must register annually for life.
There are approximately 15,000 registered sex offenders in the state of New York. These individuals have been required to register under the “Sex Offender Registration Act” which became effective January 21, 1996, and is set forth in Section 168 of the Correction Law of the State of New York.
Levels of Risk
The act creates a five member Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders. The board is appointed by the governor and is charged with establishing guidelines and procedures to assess the risk of repeat offenses and determine the level of risk to the community. In order to determine the level of community notification and duration of registration, a hearing is held by the sentencing court. After examining the facts in a particular case, including, but not limited to, the use of force, weapons, alcohol or drugs, victim’s age, number of victims, assault or injury of the victim and relationship to the victim, the court makes a determination of the risk level. New York has a three tiered system. A sex offender is categorized under Level 1 (low risk), Level 2 (moderate risk) or Level 3 (high risk).Based upon the offender’s risk level, various levels of notification to the public and/or law enforcement agencies are imposed.
- A low risk (Level 1) offender need only notify law enforcement agencies where they are.
- A Level 2 (moderate risk) sex offender is not only required to notify law enforcement agencies as to their location, but the law enforcement agencies are authorized to “disseminate relevant information” which includes the approximate address based upon zip code, a photograph and background information.
- With respect to Level 3 (high risk) sex offenders, government agencies report the sex offender’s exact address including county and zip code. Sexual predators and Level 3 offenders must personally verify their address every 90 calendar days.
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